Jan 2 - Reusable Bags are Best Choice—Can You Remember to Use Yours More This Year?

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It's 2012, and some of you may be contemplating a new year’s resolution. How about remembering to use your reusable bags more often?

One of the easiest ways to do this is to leave them in a visible place in your car. Having bags in your vehicle already eliminates one obstacle towards remembering the bags for shopping trips (just remember to take them back into the car after you’ve unloaded your purchases).

If you have a very compact reusable bag, throw it in your purse or backpack. That way, you’ll always be prepared for those unexpected purchases.

And don’t be fooled by the plastic industry’s scare tactics: reusable bags are the environmentally superior and safe alternative to single-use bags. The industry claims that single-use plastic bags have a lower impact and that reusable bags are a menace to public health because of the levels of bacteria and heavy metals found in some reusable bags.

Like all other products that are susceptible to greenwashing, reusable bags have exploded in the market place and created a wide array of choices—some better than others. Without a doubt, consumers need to be aware of the dangers of unregulated reusable bags and understand that some reusable bags are better than others. Generally, a recycled content reusable bag made as locally as possible is the best choice, especially as it keeps getting reused. In as few as 8 uses, a recycled polyethylene (PET) bag has lower environmental impact than a single-use bag.

And as concluded by a reusable bag study in 2010, the levels of bacteria found in reusable bags are similar to those found on other items (such as counters and tabletops) that come in contact with meat products, all of which need to be regularly cleaned. However, there was no evidence in the study that reusable bags contain anything close to dangerous levels of bacteria, or that the e.coli strains found were in fact dangerous.

Local bag ordinances, such as the LA County ordinance, also contain language in their definition of reusable bags to ensure that the bags do not contain lead, cadmium or other heavy metal in toxic amounts, and are made from a material that can be cleaned or washed. Furthermore, there are many domestically manufactured reusable bags that are certified to be safe and lead free. A recent study on reusable bags found that all tested bags created from recycled PET tested negative for lead and cadmium levels.

Learn more about single-use bag waste on our Campaign to End Single-Use Plastic Bags page, or TAKE ACTION NOW by sending in support letters on proposed ordinances.

(photo credit: R. Gomez/Corbis)